A team has disappeared at AC Milan’s training base Milanello. Now the Rossoneri’s headquarters resembles a ghost ship, with goalkeeper Flavio Roma, defenders Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta and Thiago Silva, midfielders Mark van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Alberto Aquilani and Alexander Merkel, and strikers Filippo Inzaghi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Maxi Lopez all missing. Milan are witnessing wholesale change; the departures of a raft of players have left the club in disarray and the side’s fans are genuinely worried about the future.
Milan have added some new names. Francesco Acerbi, a young central defender, has been bought from Chievo Verona. To boost the midfield Italy international Riccardo Montolivo, Malian Bakaye Traore, snapped up from Nancy and Kevin Constant, a Guinea international who lands from Genoa via Chievo, all arrive.
Nevertheless, Milan’s squad has a much weaker look to it than that which pushed Juventus for the Serie A title last season. Now the Rossoneri look well off being able to challenge for the championship, while success in the Champions League is merely wishful thinking.
Much of the reason for this can be traced back to the beginning of June, when wealthy French outfit Paris Saint-Germain contacted the Rossoneri over signing Thiago Silva. PSG offered €44M and the two parties looked close to an agreement for the world-class defender, but Milan president Silvio Berlusconi pulled the plug. Fans celebrated in Milan and both Berlusconi and the club’s vice-president Adriano Galliani insisted that the Italian giants would not sell any of their most prized assets; along with Thiago Silva, that list also included Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano and Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Milan TV channel, owned by the club, exclaimed “Thanks President for not selling Thiago Silva!”
After Euro 2012 and just days before players reported for pre-season training with their Serie A clubs, something changed for the worse at Milanello. Thiago Silva asked Milan for more money, wanting to earn more than €6M per year. Both Berlusconi and Galliani were concerned about escalating wage demands throughout the side and opted to approach PSG sporting director Leonardo in order to restart talks. In a week, both Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva had been sold to the French side for an impressive total of €64M. Milan’s fans were shocked and now demand that their president rebuild the club by snapping up top quality replacements.
Behind Berlusconi’s decision is the inescapable fact that Milan have accumulated a vast pile of debt in recent years, most of this down to wages paid not just to key players, but also bit-part performers. Ibrahimovic may have taken home €12M per year, but French midfielder Mathieu Flamini pocketed €4.5M – an astonishing amount for a player by no means “essential”. In the meantime, Berlusconi lost a long-running legal battle with Carlo De Benedetti, known as “Lodo Mondadori” which compelled the former Italian prime minister to pay €540M to his rival. The future is now far from clear for Milan – President Berlusconi is 76 years old and none of his children appear interested in taking on the Rossoneri mantle. The next period for the Italian giants could be very difficult from the last 26 glorious years under Berlusconi’s leadership.
Now Milan must look to rebuild their team and coach Massimilano Allegri may be more concerned with replacing the likes of Nesta and Zambrotta at the back, Van Bommel and Gattuso in midfield and Inzaghi and Maxi Lopez up front – and this even before taking into account the loss of world class talents Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.
The pressure is now on Galliani, a skilled transfer market operator, to reinvent Milan and reinvest some of the €64M received from selling Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. Swoops for Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko have been mooted, but fitting either of those forwards into Milan’s new wage structure will be a challenge. Galliani is primarily looking for young players with wage demands of no more than €4M to €5M on contracts up to three years. Just signing a forward however is not enough and, even if it is impossible to replace a defender of the ability of Thiago Silva, the Rossoneri want another central defender who can play alongside Acerbi or Philippe Mexes. The left side of defence needs strengthening too, with only Luca Antonini and young Spanish Under-21 star Didac Vila available. In midfield new arrivals are also needed as Gattuso and Van Bommel, both essential to Allegri’s plans, have not been adequately replaced.
Now Italy has to prepare for a new look AC Milan, with fresh and younger faces in the squad. At present though, Galliani appears to be putting more time in trying to sell Brazilian striker Robinho to Santos than starting the work of rebuilding the team.